If you’re a senior you may remember Fair State Brewery from Halfway to May last December. I fell in love with their Vienna Lager and had to know more about Macalester’s youngest alum brewer. From my interview with Matt Hauck ’06, I learned about the opening of the first cooperative brewery in Minnesota and the impact of Macalester alumni on the state’s craft beer culture.
Last February, Fair State Brewery beat out more than 80 breweries for “Best Beer” at the Minnesota Brewers Guild’s annual WinterFest. The winner, the raspberry Roselle, sits in front of me as Hauck and I sit down in his sunny taproom in Northeast Minneapolis.
Jesse Meisenhelter: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a bit about your time at Mac: first friends, favorite professors, preferred happy hour. Did you brew?
Matt Hauck: Well one of my first friends at orientation was Neely Crane-Smith ’06, which is why we were featured at Halfway to May this year. I was a religious studies and anthropology double major at Macalester. My favorite professors included Dianna Shandy, Jim Laine and Jack Weatherford.
I worked with WMCN, played rugby and worked for facilities. I was really interested in social change through business and wrote my senior thesis on research from study abroad in Jaipur, India about crafts as employment and economic schemes. I never homebrewed in college, but my favorite bartenders from the Groveland Tap opened the Blue Door Pub. And the Wine Thief opened my senior year with a small shelf [for beer] that later became the Ale Jail.
JM: How did you meet the other two founders of Fair State?
MH: Evan and Niko played Rugby at Carleton so we played each other every semester, but we really met cheering at a Mac v. Carleton game after graduation. We started home brewing together and did that a lot from 2007 to 2009. Then in the summer of 2009, Niko left for grad school in Austin, Texas; Evan left for law school at Northwestern in Chicago; and I began graduate school in public policy at the University of Minnesota.
JM: When did you guys become serious about opening a brewery together?
MH: The first cooperative brewery had just opened in Austin, Texas when Evan and I went to visit Niko for South by Southwest [a film and music festival]. We visited [the cooperative] our first night in town and were still talking about it late into the night after all the shows at a beer garden called the Draught House. That was the first time we seriously asked ourselves “what would it take to open a brewery.” Most of all, we needed $700,000 in capital, which we were able to raise in a single year. We started writing the business plan in fall 2012, opened to investors in spring 2013 and opened the taproom doors in 2014.
JM: What does it mean to be a cooperative brewery?
MH: Individuals purchase lifetime membership within the brewery for $200 and elect a board annually to act as the brewery supervisors. These members will share in the dividends after the first five years of business and get special deals at happy hour, etc. The beer menu is absolutely the brewer’s choice, but sometimes members help design new options.
JM: How do you incorporate your interest in social entrepreneurship into Fair State?
MH: I don’t consider what we are doing social entrepreneurship, but we have concerns socially. We donate profit portions to a different social justice non-profit every month. We are also part of a grant at U of M for breweries to experiment with more sustainable methods for wastewater. We also use steam-generated heat which saves a lot of energy and sell our beer locally which improves transportation impacts. Our social mission is enforced by the Macalester and Carleton cultures. Our employees have good pay and health insurance.
JM: How has the market for microbrews changed in the Twin Cities in the past five years?
MH: I think a lot of the changes and growth are due to the passing of the Surly Bill in 2011 (see sidebar). The cash flow for a small, young brewer is much larger with a taproom. Also the client base for craft beer is diversifying as fast as the industry is growing. People of more ages, races and other demographics are wanting to buy more styles of beer. I think the more demystified and accessible local beer is the better.
JM: How are you staying competitive in the Twin Cites more saturated brewing scene?
MH: I think we stay successful because of three things:
1) The cooperative structure literally creates buy in. Our owners are also our best customers.
2) Our branding stands out in the microbrew pack. Too often, breweries are trying to tell a story or say too much with their branding.We try to keep it bold and simple.
3) Niko is just a really gifted brewer with his experience and his recipe development. He has a specialty for German-style lagers and sour beers which are especially popular right now.
Right now we are selling about 2,000 barrels per year. When we created our business plan we had to estimate three projections of our business’s growth. Right now we are somewhere in-between the “good” and “best case” scenarios. We are seriously interested in expanding production.
JM: Do you have any advice for Mac students who are interested in beer?
MH: Well, support your local breweries but also buy enough beer from around the country to know what’s good. Also, home-brew … Northern Brewer is just up the street! Get a brew club started at Macalester or do an internship like Niko at a brewery.
JM: Ok, a few recommendations from around the country?
MH: 300 Mosaic IPA from Fulton Brewery, any sour beer from Crooked Stave (out of Denver), Venture Pils or 14 degree ESB from Bent Paddle Brewing, Size 4 from Steel Toe Brewery.
JM: Any final thoughts on craft beer?
MH: At the end of the day I don’t want people to see it as anything more than a beer. Beer is about social cohesion, it’s about bringing people together. That’s a part of European culture that we really take inspiration from to the point where all my favorites are pilsners or other classic pale European lagers, something you can drink all night with friends.
JM: Finally, where can Mac students try Fair State?
MH: Macalester students can get Fair State bottles at the Ale Jail or Thomas Liquors, both on Saint Clair. The closest tap lines to campus are at the Muddy Pig or the Happy Gnome. If you’re really interested, I recommending coming to the taproom for a drink, a brewery tour, a trivia night or a “new beer Thursday” where we tap a new barrel or cask. We are also going to be at Art-a-Whirl the weekend of May 20.
Three ways Macalester alumni changed Minnesota’s craft beer:
1) America’s #1 home kit supplier.
After graduating from Macalester in 1993, Chris Farley was given $4,000 apiece from two friends to start his own brew store. The Northern Brewer, located just one mile up Grand Ave from campus, is now the largest brew kit business in the country. Their business inspires new brewers and encourages an informed and excited clientele base for craft beer across the Twin Cities. Try it yourself!
1150 Grand Ave, St Paul
2) The “Surly” Bill of 2011
A Macalester friend bought Omar Ansari ’92 his first brew kit in 1994 from Northern Brewer. By 2006, Ansar had transformed his home brewing obsession into a business with his first sale of a Surly Furious Keg. Despite being named BeerAdvocate Magazine’s Best Brewery in America, Surly’s name is also attached to other accomplishments. Ansari’s largest contribution to Minnesota’s breweries is the famous Surly Bill of 2011. The bill allows breweries to build “destination breweries” or taprooms where you can sell and drink pints of beer within the brewery in which it was produced. They can even sell beer on Sundays! This new law changed the culture of brewing in Minnesota and contributed to the 500 percent increase in breweries across the state in the past five years. This growing market produces an average of 4.5 gallons of craft beer per legal adult in Minnesota.
520 Malcolm Ave SE, Minneapolis
3) Minnesota’s first cooperative brewery
Matt Hauck ’06 co-founded the third beer cooperative in the country and the first in the Midwest. Fair State, angling to be the second cooperative in the US, after Texas’s Black Star Brewing, was bumped to third after the opening of a second cooperative.
2506 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis